When most fashion magazines have spreads of Easter egg colored couture, my most glamorous look features faded black jeans and a Zara puffy jacket, a dreadful thing that sheds copious amount of feathers. Then there are my layered outfits, and I don’t mean tastefully put together layers of chiffon and cashmere suggested by Vogue. In the Ukrainian countryside, where spring is still tentative and the heating costs astronomical, we layer by putting on as many pieces of clothing as possible while still retaining the ability to lower our arms. I even sleep in a layered ensemble that includes tights, pajamas and a red sweater made by Miu Miu many years ago, but I betcha Miuccia Prada wouldn’t recognize it as one of her own now. Occasionally, I even do vintage by combining my grandfather’s track suit bottoms with my great-grandmother’s boucle jacket, a hideous look but perfect for whitewashing the cherry trees.
While I love dressing up (and indeed overdressing; I wouldn’t think twice about wearing a turquoise Betsey Johnson dress to the most staid of occasions), I relish the chance to dress purely for comfort. I enjoy dispensing with concerns of well-selected outfits or worrying about my state of elegance according to some current fashion standard. In my grandmother’s village, my standard is the garden, or rather my ability to work in it without getting cold, wet or overheated. If the roses can be pruned and the apple trees whitewashed in comfort, the rest doesn’t much matter.
What I don’t set aside is a glamorous perfume. Fashion designer Jean Patou called his fragrances “invisible couture”, and as the most intimate of adornments, scent is the most powerful. A few drops can create the ambiance you seek, make you travel in time, or even in my case, give an instant dose of glamour. Why on earth should I care about not looking exactly like a cover girl when I’m trailing Mitsouko behind me? Plus, nothing is more perfect for collecting last year’s leaves than this autumnal golden peach chypre.
When I’m looking for a glamorous perfume in this context, I want something not just elegant and alluring but also fun. A fragrance with many twists and turns to delight me throughout the day also fits the bill. One of the best in this category is Neela Vermeire Mohur, a dark rose with such a thick accord of sandalwood and incense that it could be cut with a knife. What saves Mohur from being too heavy is radiance, an ambery glow from within.
While we’re talking about big and opulent perfumes, I should mention Guerlain Nahéma, Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower, and Yves Saint Laurent Opium. All three offer lots of glamour via different fragrance families: floral oriental, white floral and classical oriental. By Terry Rouge Nocturne is my most recent discovery, and it likewise suits the brief. It’s an opaque rose underpinned by dark musk and vanilla balsams. Rouge Nocturne has a retro glamour aura—you can imagine it on the nape of a Hollywood starlet’s neck, right below her ‘40s style tresses, but it retains its bright character and doesn’t end up as old-fashioned powder.
Glamour, of course, is much more than vintage Hollywood and red lipstick, and there is another category of fragrances I love—polished, understated, but high impact compositions. Here I consider dry woods, chypres (blends of dry woods and mosses), crisp ambers, and irises. Since iris in perfumery is not a classical floral, but rather a type of green wood (the essence that comes from the plant’s rhizomes), I think of it as a category of its own. Many consider iris to be a haughty, intellectual note, best suited for occasions like art gallery openings, during which the audience sports outfits by Belgian designers—not too different from my layered garden outfits–and discusses the difference between the Vienna and Munich Sessions movements over champagne. As I wear Serge Lutens’s Iris Silver Mist while weeding the strawberry beds, I realize that it’s closer to nature than artifice. The same earthy, rooty aroma emanates from my soil-caked fingers as from my perfumed hair, with a romantic whisper of violet. I suddenly feel spring in the air.
Dry woods and chypres share much in common, especially their elegant characters, and many of my current favorites fall into this category: 10 Corso Como, Cartier Déclaration, L’Artisan Parfumeur Timbuktu, Etat Libre d’Orange The Afternoon of a Faun, among others. A thoroughly modern family of dry ambers, made possible by novel aroma-materials, is a welcome addition to my glamorous fragrance wardrobe. For instance, Narciso Rodriguez’s Narciso is a transparent amber shot through with rose petals and cedar branches. The fragrance is abstract, contemporary and trendy without being trite. It’s also approachable, long-lasting and pleasing from top to bottom. Similar in spirit is Burberry Brit Rhythm for Women, with lavender as the main accent.
Of course, there are times when even perfume is superfluous. As I stand under the apricot tree, watching the silky white petals break out of the crimson red buds—nature is the greatest couturier!—and transform the grey landscape into a Japanese watercolor, I feel a thrilling sense of discovery. I bring my face close to the branch and inhale. Apricot blossoms smell of honey diluted in linden tea, with a drop of milky almond. It’s a cold, fresh smell, but so alive that I understand why my Slavic ancestors venerated the earth and all it bears.
Photography by Bois de Jasmin